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Evidence of frequent HIV-1 infections in antibody-negative, high-risk individuals (so-called ‘silent’ infections) remains controversial. To evaluate whether these discrepant results may be the consequence of intermittent detection of rare infected cells (low viral load) preceding seroconversion, we developed a modification of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique which enabled analysis of 10-fold greater amounts of cellular DNA per reaction than standard PCR (2 × 106 rather than 0.2 × 106 input cells). This technique allowed consistent detection of HIV-1 provirus in two seropositive individuals who had repeatedly tested negative by standard-input PCR. However, results were negative when high-input PCR was applied to 51 specimens from 39 selected high-risk seronegative individuals. These results suggest that variations in viral load preceding or in the absence of seroconversion probably do not explain discrepant evidence regarding silent HIV-1 infection.